CIH president: Housing should be cherished like the NHS

The speech comes as more than 300 housing organisations have signed Make a Stand campaign to tackle domestic abuse in just eight months.

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Chartered Institute of Housing’s President, Jim Strang, addressed attendees of the organisation’s annual presidential dinner tonight.

Launched in 2018, in partnership with Women’s Aid and Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), Make a Stand has received a sign-up of 302 landlords to support residents and staff experiencing domestic abuse.

In an opening statement, Jim highlights the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the responsibility for housing to stay ‘high on the agenda’, seeking housing to be recognised as the ‘third pillar of our society’, alongside the National Health Service and universal education.

During his speech, the CIH president addresses analysis recently conducted by the organisation regarding the loss of 165,000 homes for rent over the last six years, adding that this figure could reach just under 200,000 if immediate action isn’t taken.

He added that: “Given these shocking numbers I make no apology for repeating [CIH’s] call for the UK government to suspend the ‘Right to Buy’ in England to stem the loss of our most affordable homes.”

Personal views on the current welfare reform policies were also shared, with Jim adding that a review of things like the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and the working-age benefit freeze is ‘long past time’.

He added that: “Above all, Universal Credit must be reformed before any more people suffer from the effects of waiting five weeks for their first payment or punitive levels of debt recovery.

“The picture of rent arrears from Universal Credit claiming tenants across the country is a national disgrace.”

The speech continues to introduce the principles behind CIH’s Make a Stand campaign, aiming to raise awareness about what social landlords can do to tackle domestic abuse.

“As I stand before you this evening, I am thrilled to announce that more than 300 organisations have signed up to ‘Make a Stand’, less than year after its launch.

“Collectively they own and manage more than 2.6 million homes – that’s more than 50% of all social housing across the UK.

“And we are not stopping there – we are working with DAHA and Women’s Aid to provide more support for landlords to tackle domestic abuse, and looking at developing a new pledge for organisations who work closely with our sector.”

He continues to encourage organisations to sign up to the pledge adding that, “I [Jim] owe all of my tenants and my staff the same chance. You owe it to your tenants and your colleagues.”

In a closing line, Jim added: “With one voice, a common cause, a voice so loud and so clear that we will – we will – make a real difference.”

 

Speech in full:

Good evening everyone and thank you for being here tonight – and a big thank you to our main sponsor Lovell for all their support.

I’m told it’s traditional to start this speech by running through all the major events of the last 12 months – but I’m not sure I fancy setting a new world record for the number of times I can mention Brexit or Donald Trump in 15 minutes, so I think I’ll give that a miss.

One thing is for sure though – while the long-term impact of Brexit remains unclear, the impact of our housing crisis now and on future generations is depressingly easy to predict.

If we don’t start building many more of the right homes, in the right places, at the right prices, the future facing our children and grandchildren looks increasingly bleak.

So it’s our responsibility to keep housing high on the agenda – and on that front at least we have seen some encouraging progress over the past 12 months.

The Westminster government has decided that funding for all supported housing will stay within the welfare system, giving much-needed certainty for current and future residents. In England, the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap has been scrapped.

This is something CIH strongly advocated and will allow councils to build more homes – freeing them up to play the vital role they must do if we are ever going to truly tackle our housing crisis.

CIH has been pushing hard on both of these issues so it’s great to see, our voice, your voice as housing professionals being heard. Make no mistake – we are winning victories for housing that were almost unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

For example, we have long championed the importance of social rent as the only truly affordable option for many people – and from Shelter’s commission on the future of social housing to our own ‘Rethinking Social Housing’ project, this year we have also seen a growing consensus that building new homes for social rent must be at the heart of any plan, by any government, to tackle the housing crisis.

The time has come to reclaim social housing as the pillar of the society we want to be – and what could be a more fundamental human need than a safe, warm, affordable home?

How much benefit could there to be wider society if we ended the stress, pain and misery caused by poor housing that blights our country?

How many children will do better at school with a bedroom to call their own? How many disabled and elderly people will live more fulfilling lives in homes adapted to their own needs?

How many young couples, with a home within their budget, will put down roots in new homes and help build the sustainable communities of tomorrow?

A renewed vision for social housing can and will achieve all of this. We must aspire to inspire.

We seek for housing to be recognised as the third pillar of our society, alongside the National Health Service and universal education.

Now it’s about getting on with it – and it’s time for the government’s warm words about housing being the number one domestic priority to translate into action.
There isn’t a moment to lose.

Too many people face a constant battle to find a decent home at a price they can afford.

Too many people are stuck in an increasingly unaffordable private rented sector – often having to put up with unacceptable conditions.

And too many people are trapped on the social housing waiting list desperately waiting for a truly affordable home that meets their needs.

At the very sharpest end of our housing crisis, too many people are forced to live in B&Bs, sleep on sofas, and even to try and survive on the streets.

For heaven’s sake, there are tented communities appearing in our major cities. This is unacceptable in a modern democratic society that purports to look after its own vulnerable citizens.

Our analysis shows we lost more than 165,000 homes for social rent in just six years between 2012 and 2018 – and that figure could reach 199,000 by 2020 if we don’t take action now.

Given these shocking numbers I make no apology for repeating our call for the UK government to suspend the ‘Right to Buy’ in England to stem the loss of our most affordable homes.

In Scotland and in wales right to buy has been ended completely; why not learn from these other jurisdictions? Why must home-owning aspiration in England be achieved at the expense of future generations?

So yes, we need to stop selling off homes for social rent and start building many more; surely we all agree on that? But the impact of building the right homes, in the right places, for the right prices will always be limited if housing policy continues to be undermined by welfare policy that often acts to the contrary of what we are seeking to achieve.

Bluntly, my personal view is that current welfare reform policies do little except make poor people even poorer.

It’s long past time for the government to review the effects of its welfare reforms – things like:

The benefit cap – punishing single parents and children.

The ‘Bedroom Tax’ – punishing those with nowhere to move to.

The working-age benefit freeze – punishing those unable to swim against the tide of inflation.

Above all, Universal Credit must be reformed before any more people suffer from the effects of waiting five weeks for their first payment or punitive levels of debt recovery. The picture of rent arrears from Universal Credit claiming tenants across the country is a national disgrace.

You only need to look at the rising number of people being made homeless to see the impact these policies are having. We must look past the rhetoric in some of the printed media and recognise the reality that some people have to decide whether to pay their rent or pay for other vital necessities, such as feeding their families or putting on the heating.

These are absolutely horrendous choices that far too many of our people are being called upon to make; even as we sit down to our dinner this evening, some families are having to make this dreadful call.

In England, more than 120,000 children were trapped in totally unacceptable temporary accommodation in June 2018. WE know all about the long-term effects such accommodation will have on the life chances of children.

Poor housing conditions lead to poor school results, poor health outcomes and poor life opportunities. Poor housing today causes long-term problems.

We know this already; our ancestors pulled down the Victorian rookeries and slums for exactly these reasons. We need to re-learn these lessons and make tomorrow brighter for all of our children.

Almost 600 homeless people died across England and Wales in 2017. These disgraceful figures should shame us all in this day and age.

Let’s be clear; in the 5th largest economy on the planet, many of our fellow human beings this evening are settling down in doorways, under bridges and some may not see the dawn.

It doesn’t have to be like this. We have tackled homelessness and poor housing before, and we can do it again – but only with a concerted and co-ordinated approach by the housing sector and government.

We could learn much from my own personal hero, John Wheatley, who as Minister for Public Health and Housing paved the way for half a million new, high-quality public homes to be built for those in need, in the devastating aftermath of the First World War.

If we could build that amount of housing with the burden of public debt caused by a global war, we can build them now with finances burdened by the effects of a global economic crash.

We’ve made steps so far. In England, the Homelessness Reduction Act has the potential to make a big impact – but only if councils have the right resources.

This is a prime example of where governments can learn from their counterparts across the UK – just look at what the Scottish government is doing on homelessness by committing the cash to build new homes, and of course Wales has innovatively led the way on prevention.

One of the great things about CIH is that we work across the UK and Ireland, learning from each other and enabling our members to learn from each other, and promoting professionalism across the UK and beyond.

We have always made the case for professionalism and it’s great to see others joining us – it was one of the key messages in the UK government’s social housing green paper.

Being a member of CIH means you are demonstrating your commitment to professionalism – and we’re here to make sure that as professionals you have the right knowledge, skills and behaviours, backed up by a strong ethical framework.

And we are not resting on our laurels. We are always looking at ways we can improve what we do for members and ways that we can challenge the profession to set and reach new, modern, relevant standards.

So yes, we’re here to support you as members and professionals but we are also going to be challenging you to demonstrate your continuing professional development.

We’re going to be reviewing what we expect of members – you will find you’re doing a lot of it already, but being conscious of it, documenting it and demonstrating it is part of what being a professional means.

I have always been proud to say I’m a housing professional, I’ve always been proud to shout out that I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of housing and I am beyond proud to be standing in front of you as president of our professional body.

Continually investing in your development and demonstrating the value of that activity is not a tick-box exercise. It’s not about doing what the government or the regulator or whoever tells us to do – it is fundamentally the right thing to do for the people we serve.

And that doesn’t mean distancing ourselves from the people who live in the homes our organisations run.

These are their homes and their rent pays our wages – and too many residents feel their landlords are remote, unaccountable and uninterested.

We all have a responsibility to look at the way we engage with our tenants and residents – to truly listen to them, to truly hear their knowledge and expertise, and to truly respond to what they say.

We have a responsibility to bring people, to bring communities together and break down artificial divides. The reality is that we are one and the same.

I always say that as housing professionals we have the potential to make a huge impact on people. You can do more for a family, for a person, in one day than most professionals can achieve in a whole career. That’s the power and influence that housing workers, regardless of role or grade, can have.

We must use that influence to its greatest extent.

Now I want to talk to you about one of the areas where we can make the biggest impact – and that is domestic abuse.

My predecessor Alison Inman spoke at an event I attended just after my election as Vice President, a year or so back now.

At that time I was thinking about what my charity should be. I sat listening to my friend speak with such passion and commitment about Women’s Aid as she set her stall out to get the sector to be a leader in resolving domestic violence.

It kindled in me memories; memories I thought I had managed to bury, to make sure they didn’t blight my life as I grew up, as they did when they happened all those years ago.

Domestic violence was a regular visitor in our house when I was a child, and it was never really a home because of its presence. Indeed, even as I was teenager it was present mostly, often fuelled by that most able of accomplices; alcohol.

I can recall many a Monday morning I would to trudge into high school with reddened eyes after a weekend of abuse. Reddened by the tears of witnessing and suffering violence against my Ma, me ma wee sister and my big brother.

And as I walked into the school nobody would help. Nobody would ask. It seemed to me – a frightened child – that nobody cared.

I can remember as little more than a toddler walking the grim streets of post-war Glasgow to try and get shelter from our extended family. Even then, my Ma’s sister wouldn’t help. Wouldn’t offer support or succour.

Nobody would help. Everyone had abandoned us.

I vividly remember my mother crying outside on the steps after being thrown out of her own house, yet no neighbour ever ventured out. As she sat their weeping, in the cold in her night clothes; the neighbours heard it all but did nothing.

Nobody would help.

I remember also trips to the hospital with my mother to have injuries treated and to vouch for her story of how she managed to “hurt herself”, again and again. Even in the “sanctuary” of the accident and emergency unit of the Glasgow’s western infirmary no one asked and no one seemed to care.

Nobody would help.

You see, in those days over 50 years ago it was never about helping. It was a matter between a husband and his wife. No one ever dared intervene.

Oh yes, I got the odd nodding of understanding from a teacher on a Monday and the neighbours would say to my Ma “we heard it last night Mary”, with sympathetic looks and pats on the arm. Despite all the sympathy, it was never tackled. And for many today it’s still the same.

It’s hard to disagree with the notion, decades now down the line, that had Woman’s Aid been around then then my Ma, who died at the age of 56, my wee sister, my big brother and I would have had a much better life.

All this came flooding back and it was there and then I decided that my charity activity would be to continue Alison’s crusade against domestic violence in all its forms, in all households. Since I started talking about it I have been overwhelmed by the reaction and the number of people my experiences have resonated with.

In addition, more and more men are coming forward to share their experiences growing up and we are committing ourselves to being a part of the solution. Because we are most assuredly a major part of the problem and there will be men in this room tonight who have committed and will commit domestic abuse.

We as a profession are well placed to help identify the signs, to deal with the outcomes and help tackle some of the root causes of domestic violence. We’re in these homes more regularly than most other professions.

That is the principle behind CIH’s Make a Stand campaign, in collaboration with Women’s Aid and the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.

It aims to raise awareness about what social landlords can do to tackle domestic abuse, and calls on landlords to sign up to four simple commitments to support residents and staff who are experiencing domestic abuse.

As I stand before you this evening, I am thrilled to announce that more than 300 organisations have signed up to ‘Make a Stand’, less than year after its launch. Collectively they own and manage more than 2.6 million homes – that’s more than 50% of all social housing across the UK.

And we are not stopping there – we are working with DAHA and Women’s Aid to provide more support for landlords to tackle domestic abuse, and looking at developing a new pledge for organisations who work closely with our sector.

Alison through her leadership has started a revolution on tackling this scourge which continues to blight our society.

FRIENDS, women are dying, mothers, sisters and daughters are being murdered or permanently scarred mentally as well as physically on a daily basis and it has to stop. Full stop. Domestic abuse of any kind must be consigned to be a footnote in the history of our society.

So I ask all of you tonight, not only to give generously to Women’s Aid, as I know you will, but to encourage your organisations to sign up to the CIH “Make a Stand” campaign.

As welcome as it is, it’s not enough to simply post it on your social media. We need you to enshrine it into your policies and within your practices. Offer domestic abuse no quarter. Train your staff to the fullest extent possible and empower them to make a real difference in the battle ahead.

For me those memories I spoke of earlier will never be buried again. I’m a husband, and a father, and, now that she has her own family, I will never allow my daughter to experience anything like what my mother did.

Both my daughter and her brother know of my early life and they both know of my approach so they will never suffer. We need to extend this knowledge and safety to all.

I owe all of my tenants and my staff the same chance. You owe it to your tenants and your colleagues.

So I ask you to stand with Alison Inman, stand with me, stand with the Chartered Institute of Housing and Women’s Aid, and in the name of God stand with those who this night will be abused, and “Make a Stand” against domestic violence.

With one voice, a common cause, a voice so loud and so clear that we will – we will – make a real difference.

Thank you for listening.

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